Point Austin: The New Inquisition

The assault on Planned Parenthood is an assault on health care

Point Austin

It was simultaneously depressing and inspiring to watch Austin's own Cecile Richards defend the Planned Parenthood Federation of America before the U.S. House Oversight Committee this week. Depressing, of course, because it was a Republican show trial, designed primarily to reward and inflame the GOP base that still considers abortion – a necessary and legal health care choice for many women and their families – a moral outrage and a political bludgeon. Inspiring, because Richards – who learned to fight back against political hit-jobs at the knee of her formidable mother, Ann – gave no quarter and ably defended her indispensable national health care organization against unprincipled, willfully ignorant, often personal attacks.

All this will continue at least into the fall, because of the GOP presidential race and the not coincidental release of dishonest and manipulated videos by anti-abortion charlatans purporting to show that Planned Parenthood clinics have been "harvesting and selling" fetal tissue. As Richards bluntly informed the committee: "The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue."

Since the Congressional inquisitors had no hope of demonstrating illegal activity, they instead browbeat Richards about moving federal PP funding to cancer research (where fetal tissue happens to be particularly useful), with bogus charts generated by anti-abortion organizations, even berating Richards for her supposedly exorbitant salary. None of it made sense; all of it made good red-meat theatre for the right-wing base.

Abortion Is Good

Lost in all this venomous barrage is that abortion is not simply a "reproductive right" – something to be defended as a necessary evil, like irresponsible free speech – but both necessary health care and a positive social good, a health care choice exercised by some 30% of women over their lifetimes, 60% of whom already have children. The best recent defense of abortion is Katha Pollitt's 2014 book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, which in no-nonsense, fluent prose describes abortion as what it has always been: an indispensable and positive health care choice for women and their families.

From Pro:

"We need to talk about ending a pregnancy as a common, even normal, event in the reproductive lives of women – and not just modern American women either, but women throughout history and all over the world, from ancient Egypt to medieval Catholic Europe, from today's sprawling cities to rural villages barely touched by modern ideas about women's roles and rights. ...

"We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child – indeed, sometimes more moral. Pro-choicers often say no one is 'pro-abortion,' but what is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you're already overwhelmed by? ...

"Actually, abortion is part of being a mother and of caring for children, because part of caring for children is knowing when it's not a good idea to bring them into the world."

Needless to say, that kind of talk falls on the deaf ears of those who insist "Life" is some kind of abstract absolute, mystically inherent in a fertilized ovum. The simple truth is, anyone who pretends not to distinguish between a born child and a pre-term fetus – let alone an embryo, a zygote, or a blastocyst – is either deluded or should be holding permanent funerals for the billions of fertilized eggs "dying" of entirely natural processes.

Legal and Necessary

As Richards reminded her inquisitors, federal and state policies banning the use of taxpayer funding for abortion care is not "pro-life," but simply one more way of discriminating against poor women, many of whom are only able to access any health care at all through the Medicaid reimbursements that currently flow to Planned Parenthood. Women of means will always have access to abortion care, even if it means traveling to more sensible countries.

As my colleague Mary Tuma and many others have repeatedly reported, the so-called alternative clinics on those lists waved by disingenuous officials either don't provide reproductive care, do not accept Medicaid patients, or are already overwhelmed by their own patients. As the Texas Observer's Andrea Grimes reiterated this week, "I mined a list of supposed reproductive health care providers, rife with duplicate and incorrect entries, only to find myself asking for a pap smear at a colonoscopy clinic." And the lack of ready access leads not to fewer and safer abortions, but to more late and less safe ones.

It will be both a crime against women and a national health care crisis if these anti-women extremists succeed in defunding Planned Parenthood or shutting down the federal government in the attempt. But they've already succeeded in their larger effort, of portraying abortion as some kind of moral failing instead of what it is: a righteous health care choice that is both legal and should be readily available to all people who need it, just like any other health care.

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